Results tagged French Cuisine from David Lebovitz

Pottoka

Pottoka in Paris

Sometimes I feel like a nitwit, especially when people start talking about all the new restaurants in Paris. I am a creature of habit (and I don’t like disappointment), so I generally go to the same places. I also tend to stay on the Right Bank, where I live, as the restaurants tend to be more exciting and less-fussy, with a more casual ambiance.

But I’d heard good things about Pottoka, over in the 7th arrondissement, helmed by chef Sébastien Gravé, who likes to improvise on his native Basque cuisine, known for lots of colors and contrasts, as well as a hint of spice. The restaurant is named for a breed of smallish horses from that region, which is located in the southwest part of France, and spans into Spain as well. So the foods often feature red peppers, lively seasonings, and seafood. It’s also famous for the Ibaïonan (Basque) charcuterie, which is some of the best in the world.

Pottoka in Paris

Since I was on my own, I didn’t start with any of the nice charcuterie on offer. But the list had some notable things on there, including cécina (dried beef, which if you haven’t tried, is great stuff) and cochonailles (cured hams and sausages) from the notable Eric Ospital. Scanning the dining room at midday, from the looks of things, this was a working lunch crowd that probably had to go back to their desks afterward, so not many people were drinking wine. I had a ton of work piled up back at home, too, but couldn’t resist a glass of cool Jurançon from Domaine Cauhapé that was pleasantly dry (some are sweet). It was a very generous pour and I cursed the unpleasantness that was waiting for me at my own desk.

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The Making of My Paris Kitchen

My Paris Kitchen Photoshoot

(Photo by Ed Anderson)

My Paris Kitchen is finally here! It’s taken me a few years to get to this day, and I thought I’d give you a little look behind-the-scenes of how the book was created. There’s a certain amount of conversation about blogs versus cookbooks, and since I have a foot in both, I am keenly aware of the connection between the two, but also what makes them different.

My Paris Kitchen Photoshoot

There’s a lot of talk about whether food blogs are overtaking traditional cookbooks. What’s changing – in my view – is that people are looking for something else in a cookbook – not just collections of recipes, which can be found online, but a storyline that carries the book. I read blogs when I’m sitting in front of my computer, but I love settling into a chair (or cozy bed) with a good cookbook, and reading all the stories that accompany the recipes.

So when people ask me, “What’s your book about?” I answer that it’s a story about how I cook in Paris – where I shop, how I find ingredients, the friends I like to cook with, as well as recipes from Parisian friends, chefs, and pastry chefs, with plenty of photos (and stories) of the outdoor markets, pastry shops, bread bakeries, bistros, and cafés. The book starts with recipes and stories for l’heure de l’apéro (cocktail hour), and goes through soups, salads, and main courses, before heading to dessert, ending with a spectacular bûche de Noël, that concludes the year across France on a sweet note.

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Some Thoughts on French Cuisine

France Map

French cuisine is, once again, a popular topic of discussion these days. Actually, anything controversial about France seems to foster a lot of heated debates. On one side are the folks decrying French-bashing, complaining that the French are unfairly picked on. Then there are the others who eat up books about how superior the French are, because they are better at parenting, they miraculously stay thin, they don’t have plastic surgery, everyone enjoys months of vacations, and Paris is a magical place where love, fashion, and fine food, flourish on the cobbled streets of the city. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between and, like any where, there is the great, the ordinary, and a bit of the not-so-good. I want to play the referee but there’s usually a bit of truth in most compliments and criticisms, and the reality is more complicated.

French cuisine gets its share of praise and criticism, some deserved, some not. One truth I’ve learned after living here for over a decade is that people really like to eat. The outdoor markets are crowded, lines snake out the door at bakeries, and cafés and restaurants are packed – even on Tuesday evenings – in spite of la crise (the economic crisis).

But what is French cuisine? Traditionally, cuisine du potager (cooking from the garden) or cuisine du marché (cooking from the daily market) were the foundations of French cuisine. Cuisine du potager was born out of economic and common sense; you cooked and ate what was closest to where you lived. Part of it was out of necessity (there was no Chinese garlic or avocados from Peru way-back-when), but mostly because the food was either free, picked from your own garden, or grown nearby. So you were always eating seasonally and locally. In France, you were cooking and eating local products; fresh cream, butter, and cheeses made in your region, peas from your garden, eggs from the neighbor’s chicken coop, and bread from the village bakery.

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Salon de l’Agriculture

Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris

Every year, beginning in mid-February, thousands of farmers, wine makers, cheese makers, sausage makers, and an arks’-worth of animals, makes it way to Paris for the annual Salon de l’Agriculture. The salon began in 1870 in a country that was, and still is, justly fond of its agriculture, which is celebrated on tables, in steaming cauldrons, on picnic blankets, in restaurants, and ready-to-slice on cutting boards, all across France.

Paris Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris

The best of France converges on Paris and last year, there were nearly three-quarters of a million visitors, filling up the massive, grand halls of the Porte des Versailles, on the edge of Paris.

Paris Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris

There are exhibitors from twenty-two countries in addition to France, as well as foods from tropical French regions. And four thousand animals are trucked to Paris from the provinces to bring the taste – and smell(!) – of the country, to Paris.

Paris Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris

Like many agriculture fairs, there are competitions, too, honoring everything from the liveliest livestock to the best wines in France. But to me, it’s really an astounding place to enjoy the best of France in one hectic visit. However, it’s impossible to see it all in one day unless you have the stamina of one of those massive bulls in the pens, or the men who stir (and stir and stir and stir) the giant pots of cheese and potatoes.

Paris Salon de l'Agriculture in Paris

 

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Masterpieces of French Cuisine

Masterpieces of French Cuisine

When I moved to France a number of years ago, the hardest things to part with were my cookbooks. (And San Francisco burritos.) Some I shipped ahead – which, as readers of my Paris book know, I’m still waiting for today. Some got boxed and put in storage, and the rest were sold or given away. One of my favorite books of all time was brought to my attention by a woman who ate in the kitchen at Chez Panisse a few times a week. Back then, it wasn’t trendy to be seated where the cooks were working, which are now called “chefs tables” and they’ve become so popular that restaurants actually put tables frequently in the kitchens and guests can reserve them. She just preferred to be back in the kitchen with us, rather than with the rest of the diners.

breton broiled lobster

Since we all liked her a lot, and not just because she regularly brought us in French pastries and Belgian chocolates, but because she was a lot of fun. She held court at that table for perhaps a decade and she even entered through the kitchen door when dining with us because she wanted to be “part of the gang.” She loved to eat everything, especially lobster and frais des bois (or anything with butter, really), but she had a soft spot for pastries and her table was next to where I worked, so I spent a lot of time talking about food with her. Knowing I liked cookbooks, one day she brought me in a copy of a large-format cookbook from her collection to read – Masterpieces of French Cuisine.

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Septime

Septime

When I go out to eat, it’s usually not with the intention of writing about a place. I go out to eat to have a good time with friends and enjoy the food. (And perhaps a little wine.) But I found that whenever I don’t expect it, I hit on a place that merits talking about. Septime

But then again, I don’t even normally order soup in restaurants. So what do I know?

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Restaurant Astier

Astier Paris

What’s not to like about a somewhat out-of-the-way bistrotière like Astier, serving examples of classic French cuisine, keeping the torch alive of a genre that’s become harder to find done right?

The pre-fixe menu at Astier is a little gentler at €35, and you can choose from four of five selections in each category. There’s more extensive selections on the à la carte side of the carte. (Traveler tip: Menu in French means a fixed series of dishes, often les plates du jour composed of various courses. A carte is the actual physical menu.) but we were thoroughly pleased with chunky block of house-made foie gras sprinkled with fleur de sel, with toasted brioche and chutney alongside.

knives at Astier Astier wine list

Warm brandade (whipped salted fish and potatoes) was a good rendition of the classic thankfully served in appetizer proportions, although I could have done without the diced roasted peppers on top which detracted from the taste. (I may also be a little biased, though because also can’t stand roasted peppers.) My main course was a shallow bowl of slow-roasted, tender lamb shoulder with stubby baby carrots in a thick jus and exactly what I felt like eating sitting in a Parisian bistro.

photo

The star of the show at Astier, which I hope they never take off the stage (I’m sure there would be a riot if they did, and I’d lead the pack) is the massive cheese plate. There’s hardly room on the table for it – Another tip: hold on to your wine glasses when they set it down – then dive right in. We had to guide our stunned neighbors when it was their turn with the cheese board—Romain is especially good at taking charge and took control, slicing cheese for them and putting in on their plates. When it was our turn, he loaded me up with five superb specimens: Époisses (which was the best I’ve ever had), Salers, Brie de Meaux, a fine, ripe Camembert, and a tangy Basque sheep’s milk cheese.

(Next time someone says the French practice portion control, they can remove Romain—and his damn 28-inch waist—from that equation.)

Astier menu

Needless to say, I could barely eat my rice pudding, which tasted fine with some poached fruits embedded in the top, but when the waiter set down a studly Baba au rhum in from of the man behind us, just about every head in the room turned, especially when the garçon split it open and doused both halves with nearly a quarter bottle of rum. His wife, who was being prudent forking up a warm chocolate cake, said to me “C’est le meilleur Baba au rhum à Paris!” And from the look of his face, she wasn’t lying.

We had a bottle of Chenin blanc (€22) from the Touraine*, which was the first selection on the reasonable wine list, after we started off with two glasses of Champagne. (€11 each and kind of steep, but I really needed a glass that night and didn’t think it’d be polite to drink one in front of a dinner companion without springing for one for him as well.) Dinner for two, with a few supplemental charges, because we veered a bit from the menu fixe, came in at €118. A few years back, a major food magazine was going to do an issue on Paris, but the editor told me she was concerned about the prices in Paris, especially with the exchange rate. But a four-course meal like this in any American city, with wine and two pre-dinner glasses of bubbly would cost about twice as much.

Fromages

(I’d also like to give points to Astier for serving bottles of chilled filtered water, still or sparkling, at no extra cost. France is one of the largest consumers of bottled water in the world, and the tap water is perfectly safe to drink, and free. The waitress told me they were trying to reduce waste and the strain on the waiters, who were tired of carrying all those cases of bottles. It’s a great initiative, one which I hope more restaurants worldwide would adopt.)

chocolate cake at Astier

It’s tricky these days to find an honest French meal in Paris, made with good ingredients by actual cooks rather than hired hands. And when I left, I took a peek in the sparkling kitchen where the cooks were staying busy plating up food for the other lucky diners. The waiters were hovering by the door and the owner was behind the bar polishing glasses, waiting to say goodbye as we left. I was a little sorry to go, but happy that there was a reasonably long walk home in front of me, because I needed it.

Restaurant Astier Paris

Restaurant Astier
44, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud (11th)
Tél: 01 43 57 16 35

Restaurant Astier is open seven days a week. They also have opened a take-out/eat in dining annex next door that’s very casual, focusing on rotisserie meats, charcuterie, and wines by the glass, called Jeanne A (42, rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, Tél: 01 43 55 09 49)



Related Posts and Links

Jeanne A. (Hungry for Paris)

Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud (Secrets of Paris)

Jeanne A. in the 11th (John Talbott’s Paris)

Paris Bistro Astier: For Old Times (and New) (Patricia Wells)

Fastidious French Get Free Sparkling Water Fountain (Good)

Paris Restaurant Archives

French Menu Translation Guide

Sunday Dining in Paris


*I’m far from being an expert on wine, but I sure like it. And I used to come to France before I moved here and was usually timid about ordering it because of my inexpertise, so would limit myself to order bottles with familiar names, like Côte du Rhone and such. But I’ve been trying to learn more (by tasting, bien sûr) and as I started moving toward white wines, I found I was really enjoying wines from the Touraine, an area not far from Paris called the Loire.

The best white wine from that region is Sancerre, which is always priced a bit higher than the other white wines. (And usually merits it.) But other white wines from the Loire are Sauvignon blanc and Chemin blanc, and are often quite good and economical choices, if that’s a concern. You don’t have to pay a lot of money to drink decent wine in France.

Muscadet is another white wine produced in the same region, which has the unfortunate association (because the names are similar) with inexpensive sweet wine called Muscatel, which it doesn’t resemble. Muscadets aren’t always great wines, but some aren’t bad and I’ll take a glass at a bar during l’heure d’apéro, the pre-dinner drink.

So if you’re in a restaurant and want to try something different, if you see the word “Touraine” listed after a bottle, and something bright and minerally appeals to you, you might want to give one a try. And if anyone gives you a hard time about it, tell them you’re supporting the local wines.

As Always, Julia and Ideas in Food

A couple of books have been resting on my nightstand for the past few weeks and I’ve been enjoying dipping into each, back and forth. They’re quite different and I didn’t expect to take a shine to them both as much as I did. Both of these authors and books are about teaching people to cook, from different eras and in different styles. And the more I read of each, the more I realized how much the two intersect.

Cooking is something that’s always evolving, whether it’s figuring out how to make a good French baguette in an American kitchen or presenting a technique for making risotto in just seven minutes. The first book is based on the correspondence of a familiar face, someone who wrote a book five decades ago that few thought anyone would have any interest in. And the second is from two modern-day faces that are pushing to evolve what we eat even further, based on a new cooking style brimming with new ideas, techniques, and flavor combinations.

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto

Although many people enjoyed the film Julie & Julia, I would venture to guess that the actual characters are more interesting, and even richer, than what was possible to present on a film screen. Anyone who has watched even one short episode of The French Chef with Julia Child knows that a few minutes of her roasting a chicken tells you just about all you want to know about her. And on the other side, although I didn’t read the original Julie/Julia blog or book, I’m sure she’s a more multifaceted than depicted as well. The film enjoyed a lot of success and pulled Julia Child back into our collective memories.

In this age of e-mail, tweets, and text messages, quite a bit of our lives get lost into cyberspace as we type short notes, then hit the delete button once the information has been processed. The art of letter-writing is on the wane, but evidence of how much we’ve lost can discovered in the pages of As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto. Fortunately Child and DeVoto were avid writers and their fervent letters were preserved, and archived, then sorted through by Joan Reardon for this rare look at not just how a cookbook gets published, but a glimpse into the lives of two dynamic women living in separate cultures and gradually discovering what connects them.

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